columnIsrael at War

Electric shocks

Should Israelis panic about a potential Hezbollah attack on the national power grid? The IEC and energy ministry say no, but Oct. 7 took its toll on trust.

The Israel Electric Corporation power station in Hadera, Aug. 11, 2011. Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash90.
The Israel Electric Corporation power station in Hadera, Aug. 11, 2011. Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

At a conference on Thursday in Sderot, the CEO of Noga-Israel Independent System Operator—a state-owned company that manages the quality and flow of electricity—warned that the country isn’t prepared for an enemy attack from Lebanon on the Jewish state’s power grid.

“The bottom line,” Shaul Goldstein said to the audience at the Institute for National Security Studies event, “is that after 72 hours [of an outage], it’s impossible to live in Israel.”

He went on, “People don’t understand how much our lives here depend on electricity. You check all our infrastructures—optical fibers and ports—and I won’t get into sensitive issues, but we’re not in good shape. We’re not ready for a real war. We live in a fantasy world, in my opinion.”

He then explained how such a scenario could easily unfold.

“If [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah wants to take down Israel’s power grid, all he needs to do is call the person in charge of Beirut’s power system, which looks exactly like Israel’s,” he said. “He doesn’t even need a [camera] drone; he can call a second-year electrical-engineering student and ask where the most critical points in Israel are. Everything is on the internet. I won’t say it here, but anyone who goes on the internet can find it.”

The last part of the remark was peculiar for three reasons. First, if the info is easily located the web, Nasrallah doesn’t need to bother phoning an electrical-engineering student—not even a first-year one.

Second, to follow up the revelation by announcing that he “won’t say it here”—when he did just that—is like whisper-yelling a secret for all to hear. It was a puerile rhetorical device that rendered the rest of his arguments questionable.

Third, though Nasrallah’s goons may not require more than a Google search to pinpoint strategic targets, highlighting this fact in the context of an admonition that Israel won’t be able to function during a lengthy power outage was feckless, particularly with both Israel and Hezbollah gearing up for more than the current mini-war of attrition. Indeed, why not simply extend an invitation to Nasrallah to strike before Israelis have a chance to stock up on generators for their bomb shelters?

The rush to dispute Goldstein’s claims was furious. Israel Electric Corporation CEO Meir Spigler, for example, chided him for his “irresponsibility and insufficient knowledge” of the subject matter with which he should be far more familiar, given his role.

Energy and Infrastructure Minister Eli Cohen took to the airwaves—and social media—to reassure the public not to panic.

“We have gas rigs; we have reserves of diesel fuel [and] coal; we also generate electricity from renewable energy,” he said. “It’s important to emphasize that our reserves of energy sources are scattered in confidential and protected places.”

Furthermore, he added, “There are many other steps we have taken, which can’t be detailed, to ensure a regular supply of energy, making the chance of a lengthy power-outage scenario very low.”

Finally, Cohen issued a threat: “It’s important for me to make it clear to our enemies that if there’s a power outage in Israel for hours, there’ll be one in Lebanon for months.”

Likely shocked and embarrassed by the outcry, Goldstein apologized for his “irresponsible statements.” It appears that he was sorry for sharing his concerns so publicly, yet not for having harbored them.

Most of us Israelis have no clue about the national power grid. We’re thus incapable of calculating the parameters of an energy emergency. Nor does our hysteria over such things usually last beyond the latest news cycle.

Still, one thing that’s been emblazoned in our consciousness since Oct. 7 is skepticism when it comes to assurances from authorities that they’ve got a potentially perilous situation under control.

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